Wants government to firm up a date by which essential drugs will be notified

The Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Union government that in the name of bringing essential drugs under pricing control it should not alter the price system.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhaya told senior counsel Ashok Bhan, appearing for the Centre: “The government should not alter the drug price system. You firm up a date by which essential drugs would be notified.”

Mr. Bhan submitted that a Group of Ministers had finalised a policy under which prices of essential drugs would be decided on the basis of weighted average prices for all brands which had a market share of over 1%. This would be placed before the Cabinet for its decision, he said. As this would result in changing the pricing of essential drugs from a cost-based system to a market price-linked one, the Bench asked the government not to alter the pricing system while notifying 348 essential drugs under the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).

The Bench was hearing a writ petition filed in 2003 by the All India Drug Action Network for a direction to the Centre to increase the number of essential drugs under the price control list. Though the government revised the NLEM in 2011 proposing to increase the number to 348, it was not notified. During the resumed hearing on Wednesday, the Bench wanted to know why the government was dragging its feet.

Justice Singhvi said: “The common man has no access to anyone; he has the option to buy [the drug] or die.”

Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya asked: “How long do people have to wait for the government to act.” He also pointed out the wide variations in prices of drugs sold by different manufacturers. “Doctors prescribe the costlier versions and the cheaper ones are usually not available,” he said.

The Bench observed: “We are gravely concerned. This has been going on for nine years. It is drawing attention only when the court puts a ceiling. The court will step in only when there is a failure. The court doesn’t run the government. One of us faced the brunt of this [high prices]. The cost of medicine came to Rs. 50,000 in two months.”

The Bench gave the government time to submit a date by which the NLEM would be notified and adjourned the hearing to October 9.

  • Why the delay in notifying list, asks Bench

  • “How long do people have to wait for the government to act?”